During the second debate since the primary elections, the final two candidates vying for Madison’s mayoral seat squared off Thursday morning at an election forum focused on the city’s future and job creation amid efforts to combat high debt.
Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and former Mayor Paul Soglin spoke at the Mayoral Candidate Forum sponsored by Downtown Madison Incorporated as part of the organization’s ‘What’s Up Downtown?’ series.
Representatives from various local Madison businesses were invited to attend the event and share breakfast and feedback with the candidates. The candidates then took questions from DMI’s moderators on current events and the candidates’ previous experiences as mayor.
Both candidates emphasized the importance of creating jobs through direct relationships with state employees, especially in light of recent public employee activism throughout the city.
Soglin said the city comes together based on its own local contributions and efforts to improve the economy.
“We build on our assets,” Soglin said. “There is real success in local talent as you all know with the history of [software development company] Epic.”
Cieslewicz said one of the highlights of his last four years in office is the recent activism of state employees rallying against Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget repair bill.
“What’s happening right outside these doors has made me more proud to be mayor than any time in eight years,” Cieslewicz said. “We’ve had half a million people turn out and guess how many arrests? Zero.”
Cieslewicz said despite the economic troubles the city has faced and might be faced with in the near future, his administration has been fiscally responsible. He said though the past year was “the deepest recession year since the Great Depression,” the city’s rainy day fund was left untouched.
Though Soglin echoed Cieslewicz’s ideas concerning the potential implications Walker’s bill could hold on the city, he said Madison has problems that cannot be hidden by its recent spotlight.
He said 49 percent of Madison school children are living in households below the poverty line with a record amount of middle class families leaving the Dane County school districts.
Soglin added the AAA bond rating in Madison is being threatened by the city’s enormous debt service. He said if elected back into office, he would stress the reintroduction of his former Quality Program put into effect during his previous terms, which he said saved the city millions of dollars.
Cieslewicz defended his administration, saying he has used similar programs such as the Natural Step, which implements environmental principles to improve government efficiency while saving city funds.
When asked to look to Madison’s future, Soglin said the city needed a mayor who could lead the city forward during times of uncertainty and economic downfall.
“[A mayor's] role is not to select solutions,” Soglin said. “A mayor must know the problems and move forward in a deliberative manner for the people who want to share in Madison’s economy.”
Cieslewicz disagreed and said the mayor should offer direct solutions to problems that arise. He pointed to his 2006 idea to gate and ticket the city’s historic Freak Fest celebration in order to address safety and crowd control concerns as an example of how he thinks mayors should govern.